NASL Fall Week 16 Preview: Cosmos Can Clinch, Streaking Rayo OKC Return Home

IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES

by JAKE NUTTING

The only one as happy as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (20 pts Fall, 35 pts Combined) to see FC Edmonton (33 pts, 50 pts) lose 1-0 on Wednesday night were the New York Cosmos (38 pts, 56 pts).

A win for the Cosmos at Jacksonville Armada FC (17 pts, 24 pts) this weekend coupled with losses or draws for Miami FC (29 pts, 36 pts) would guarantee them the top spots in the Fall Season and Combined Season standings.

Miami will have their hands fulls with the Tampa Bay Rowdies (21 pts, 37 pts), who will be eager to get back in the win column after a tough loss in Edmonton.

Meanwhile, Rayo OKC (26 pts, 38 pts) is returning home hot off the heels of two pivotal road wins that allowed them to pull even with Minnesota United FC (22 pts, 38 pts) on points for the final spot in The Championship.

Miami FC host Tampa Bay Rowdies, Friday October 14, 8 p.m. ET

Miami’s quest to secure a postseason berth in their first year hit a setback last week in a home loss to Rayo OKC. A red card to captain Richie Ryan in the final moments of that losing effort could put them at a disadvantage on Friday against the Rowdies.

Tampa Bay heads into the weekend with a game in hand on every other team in the playoff race except for Miami. With the finish for the Fall Season rapidly approaching, time is running out for either side to start exploiting the game advantage. The Rowdies have lost just once in their last eight outings, but they’ve also gone without a win in their three most recent matches.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers host Puerto Rico FC, Saturday October 15, 7 p.m. ET

A slim 1-0 win over a rotation squad from Edmonton on Wednesday has renewed the playoff prospects for Fort Lauderdale. However, with just three matches left on their schedule and several points to pick up on the competition, the Strikers can ill afford to let a single point slip away.

Already axed from playoff contention, Puerto Rico looks to have finally found their footing in the final month of the season. The expansion side has stopped relying on the finishing of leading scorer Hector Ramos and has become more balanced, allowing just four goals and posting four clean sheets during their current seven-game unbeaten run.

Jacksonville Armada FC host New York Cosmos, Saturday October 15, 7 p.m. ET

Despite some encouraging signs under head coach Mark Lowry, Jacksonville has won just one out of their last nine matches and are in danger of falling behind Puerto Rico in the combined standings. Finishing the year below an expansion side that only competed in the Fall Season is an embarrassment Lowry and company will hope to avoid. The effort shown in the scoreless draw with Indy on Wednesday is not the type of performance that will keep them out of the bottom spot.

With the Eddies squandering their game in hand on Wednesday night, the Cosmos have the chance to clinch the fall title this weekend. They’ll need to put in a much better shift than the one they did last week in Ottawa if they want this weekend, though. The Cosmos could be dealing with a makeshift back line again if center back Carlos Mendes is unavailable to go after his injury in Ottawa.

Indy Eleven host Carolina RailHawks, Saturday October 15, 7:30 p.m. ET

Indy will be happy to return home after a road trip in which they collapsed late to lose to the Eddies and played to a scoreless draw in Jacksonville. A win this weekend is about all the Spring Season champions can do to keep their slim chances at capturing the fall title alive. Fortunately for Indy, they’ve yet to drop a single match at home this year and Carolina is one of the worst road performers in the NASL (3W-2D-9L).

Carolina was less than ten minutes away from pulling even on points with Minnesota for the fourth playoff spot on Wednesday, but they relented and allowed Rayo OKC to escape WakeMed Soccer Park with all three points. While they remain just one point back of Minnesota and Rayo OKC, a three-point result is likely necessary to keep pace in the contentious race. Star forward Omar Bravo’s questionable status due to a thigh injury puts pressure on the rest of the attack to come through.

Minnesota United FC host FC Edmonton, Saturday October 15, 8 p.m. ET

Winless in six straight matches, Minnesota are still somehow clinging on to the fourth playoff spot thanks to a +4 goal differential. The Loons are returning home after finishing a two-game road trip to Tampa Bay and Puerto Rico with a respectable two points. NASL Golden Boot frontrunner Christian Ramirez could be back in the lineup after missing the trip to Puerto Rico with an ankle injury.

After sending a rotation squad to Fort Lauderdale for a weeknight match, Edmonton is likely to field a stronger squad of regulars in Minnesota on Saturday. Their chances of surpassing the Cosmos for the fall title are becoming unrealistic, but the Eddies have every motivation to push for a win this weekend considering how important home field advantage has been in the NASL this year.

Rayo OKC host Ottawa Fury FC, Sunday October 16, 7 p.m. ET

Stout defending and ruthless finishing have quickly turned Rayo OKC into one of the favorites to secure the final postseason spot. Keeper Daniel Fernandes and the defensive unit have recorded back-to-back clean sheets, while leading scorer Michel has notched four decisive goals in the last five matches to secure crucial results.

Hope is fading fast for Ottawa, who are eight points out of the fourth spot in the combined standings but only have nine points left to grab. The Canadian side should get a boost with the return of wingers Jamar Dixon and Maxim Tissot from international duty.